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Only in Vegas: Unexpected things to do in Las Vegas

Look beyond the casinos and the Hoover Dam road trips. Las Vegas has lots of hidden experiences: we help you find where to look. By Paul Oswell | May 11, 2021

Typical Las Vegas: you’re eating out, seeing a show and maybe indulging in the world-famous casinos or taking a day trip to the Grand Canyon. But you can’t miss Las Vegas’s hidden depths.

We’ve scratched beneath the Strip’s surface to find plenty of fascinating things to do in Las Vegas. For frequent (or new!) visitors who want to go beyond the obvious, create unique memories of the city with:

  • A hike into the past: Take the trail to see 2,000-year-old paintings

  • Hidden art: An art installation hiding above a luxury-goods store

  • Rock and golf: An over-the-top mini-golf course dedicated to rock legends

Beyond the casinos, there’s culture

There’s history here, and museums in Las Vegas reflect the cultures that have grown up in and around this relatively young city.

The National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement (300 Stewart Ave)—locally known as The Mob Museum—provides a detailed look at how the Mafia has operated in Sin City, with interactive exhibits and fascinating historical detail.

The city’s past is also celebrated at The Neon Museum (770 Las Vegas Blvd), where iconic vintage neon signs from the Strip of old have found a final resting place at this outdoor lot. The Neon Boneyard has some of the best Instagram backdrops in all of Vegas.

You can spend a Friday night on a self-guided tour of the city’s most cutting-edge contemporary art at the Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art (4505 S Maryland Pkwy).

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Explore outdoors beyond Death Valley or the Hoover Dam

Just 45 minutes’ drive from the Strip, Valley of Fire State Park is at the edge of the Mojave Desert, with beautiful red sandstone formations. You can also take a short hike to see 2,000-year-old pictographs and petroglyphs carved into the rocks by previous Native American cultures.

Want to stay closer to the Strip? You can try the 180 acres at the Springs Preserve (333 S Valley View Blvd). It’s just west of Fremont Street, and has nature walks to spot desert tortoises and ground squirrels, botanical gardens and a museum with rotating exhibits interpreting Nevada’s environment and honoring events such as Black History Month with temporary exhibits.

New cantina concept

Casa Calavera combines traditional Mexican cuisine complemented by a twist of energetic social ambiance. Guests can enjoy a number of intricately-themed traditional altars curated as photo opportunities.

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Bypass a buffet

Skip the lines to explore some of the city’s less well-known dining experiences. Mexican restaurant Mi Casa Grill Cantina (3333 Blue Diamond Rd) is an award-winning local spot, but has a ‘secret’ restaurant within a restaurant called Su Casa, which serves Asian-influenced sushi rolls, ramen and ceviche.

For drinks, there’s an on-theme ‘speakeasy’ bar called The Underground in the basement of The Mob Museum.

Locals and tourists alike flock to Frankie’s Tiki Room (1712 W Charleston St), a dimly lit, bamboo-framed lounge that has a sublime cocktail menu and suitably kitschy glassware.

Virgin Hotels Las Vegas

In the 4,500-person venue, you’ll see live music and performances from groundbreaking artists.

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Alternative Vegas shows and entertainment

Even if you didn’t get tickets to a headline show or rockstar residence, you can’t leave Vegas without being entertained. Absinthe is a bohemian Las Vegas cabaret with incredible clown and acrobatic acts.

Hilton hint

"If you’re in Vegas, skip the big budget productions and check out the show Absinthe – little bit of burlesque, comedy, acrobatics and more. It’s hosted in a circus tent and well worth paying a little extra to snag the VIP tickets for front row action." –Roxane Murray, Hilton Team Member, Global Brand Marketing

The Drag Brunch at Senor Frogs (3300 Las Vegas Blvd) is a one-of-a-kind way to start any day. Breakfast, cocktails and lip synching are all on the menu.

It’s not quite a show, but there’s a hidden immersive experience (3720 Las Vegas Blvd). James Turrell’s ‘Akhob’ can be experienced free by appointment only, and it consists of two large chambers that drench guests in dazzling, shifting colors.

Go above or behind the scenes

Cirque du Soleil’s LOVE show takes place in a high-tech, articulated theater. On Friday and Saturday afternoons, the venue operates a free behind-the-scenes tour, where you can see some of the stage mechanics and technical wizardry involved.

For an unobscured view of the Vegas skyline, consider getting even higher up with a hot-air balloon ride that sails above the city for 3-4 hours. You’ll have a birds-eye view of the Strip as well as beauty spots such as Red Rock Canyon.

Weird and wonderful Vegas

Where else would rock music, neon and miniature golf combine? The gloriously over-the-top KISS Monster Mini Golf is a gaudy course themed around the theatrical band.

If you don’t take your gaming too seriously, there are fun options where winning isn’t the main focus. You can try one of the more than 200 pinball machines that have been collected at The Pinball Hall of Fame (1610 E Tropicana Ave), with tables from the 1940s right up to the present day.

A firm favorite is also the last remaining Sigma Derby Machine, a charmingly analogue horse racing simulator that has exciting, low-stakes betting. It’s housed at The D (301 Fremont St).

Las Vegas is a city with the potential to make many memories, and not all of them have to center around casinos and the Strip.

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Paul Oswell is an award-winning travel writer and has reported from all seven continents for dozens of internationally known publications. He is based in New Orleans and is the author of “The Bucket List North America: 1,000 Adventures Big and Small” and the editor of an online travel magazine.

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